Friday, 19 March 2021

Matt Kay

Vario managing director Matt Kay is missing the randomness of office chat and thinks our professional life risks being the poorer without it.   

 I took the opportunity to speak to Matt as he settles into his expanded role as head of Pinsent Masons’ new professional services practice group, Vario. He has made such a success of the firm’s contract lawyer resourcing arm since taking over the lead five years ago, that he has now been given a key role in the wider firm’s  journey to transition from a law firm to a ‘professional services business with law  at its core’.  As Matt is a leading expert in workforce dynamics and resourcing teams for best effect in all sorts of different and changing circumstances, I was keen to hear his insights. 

“In Lockdown our days have become far more structured now that most of our meetings are conducted online”, he told me.  “On the plus side, this has proved to many more bosses that employees can be trusted to be more, not less, productive when working remotely.  But on the other, in a different sense people’s output is in danger of being watered down because our interactions are so much more formal, narrowly task-oriented and to that extent straitjacketed.  We no longer bump in to people, have unexpected chats that spark new ideas which we might then set up a meeting to explore.  Everything is far too scheduled and pre-booked to allow for this serendipity.  Yet we can see now that pre-Lockdown this was so often the way new ideas and initiatives got started.  Teams and Zoom are great for allowing us to carry on and get done what we need to do to keep things going.  But little happens outside of that.   

“Also”, he continues, “We spend a lot of time online with the same people. The professional bubble of people we interact with is a lot smaller, ie only the collection of people we need to interact with directly to do our job. What’s being lost is the ad hoc interactions that normally just happen by chance in the office.  The opportunity to bounce ideas off someone as you have an unexpected conversation. This is part of the everyday process of operating in a large office environment.  Indeed modern offices are designed to encourage exactly these sorts of random interactions, because experience has shown how valuable they are to businesses: open plan, comfortable seating around coffee areas, breakout spaces.  The challenge for us now is to rediscover this in the virtual environment. The answer? To build more casualness in to our scheduling.” 

We often talk about the importance of business certainty. But Matt has given me a completely new perspective on the value of unpredictability and uncertainty. Vario is a brand known for turning established business practices on their head, doing things differently and leading where others follow.  Every time I speak to their managing director he makes me think again about business norms I’ve accepted as a given. I’m looking forward to the next chat Matt! 


Complex personal injury specialists Bolt Burdon Kemp claim to be “Champions” for their clients … and rightly so! They have just conducted a study that reveals only a paltry 2% of British civil and criminal courts are fully accessible. Why haven’t we heard more about this before? Credit to BBK for bringing this to our attention. This clearly needs to change. 

As they say in their report, “for many people, going to court is seen as a necessary evil…a way to help them gain justice or get redress for crimes committed against them or negligent behaviour that has adversely affected them”. Its’ a daunting process for anyone to go through, we know. But even more so for clients who have issues with their vision or hearing, or those with mental health issues or childcare responsibilities. In 2019 the Government admitted that 31 out of 56 courthouses in the Greater London were inaccessible. Did BBK find anything had improved one year on? You can read the detailed results of their investigation here. 


Regular readers of this blog will know we are all fans of award-winning freelance journalist Catherine Baksi hereI just love her totes minx style, and her humour. We spotted on Twitter that she was preparing a talk this week to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum about the state of legal aid and to sum up her thoughts on the matter she created this brilliant graphic (with a little technical support from @LegalCheek_Tom, she tells me). Genius!   

Friday, 12 March 2021

Arpita Dutt Talks to Adele Baxby Meehan

This week, our Content and Creative Director, Adele Baxby Meehan takes over The Conversation

Childcare is as essential to this country’s infrastructure as roads and bridges. It’s time government recognised this. This latest budget was a missed opportunity.” This came from Arpita Dutt, a leading equality and whistleblowing lawyer,  ELA Legislative & Policy Committee member and Lawyer Hot 100 alumnus, in our recent conversation. We were talking equality in the workplace and what might really change things for women. Arpita then quoted a stat which floored me – an investment in good quality childcare would produce 2.7 times more jobs as an equivalent investment in construction. Real action is needed to ensure women reach senior positions, especially in light of the pandemic and the step backwards equality has taken. And it’s not about paying lip service to the problem but taking real action. We don’t all need mentoring. Women generally know what they’re doing. They just need the space to do it”, Arpita said and I couldn’t agree more.

In relation to this, Arpita pointed to a positive trend she’s noticing in law – the rise of the boutique firm led by women. We’re seeing more and more niche boutique employment firms established by women. Karen Jackson’s didlaw, Farore Law established by Suzanne McKie QC, CM Murray founded by Clare Murray and Workwise Legal from Alison Humphry and MadeleineHughes, for example. No one is treading on anyone’s toes in this market as they all operate in their own niche practice areas. I think we will see more firms like this emerge and that should be celebrated.” Arpita expects to see more female legal entrepreneurship too and when asked why, she said: “The traditional law firm reward and recognition structure doesn’t suit women and women often aren’t encouraged to express their own vision or voice in some firms.” Speaking of the pandemic’s impact on workplace cultures, Arpita thinks that although working flexibly and working from home might be more accepted when we get back to ‘normal’, part-time work is still resisted by many firms, especially litigation teams. Forging their own way is a path increasingly explored by female lawyers who find the traditional law firm unsupportive and stuck in the past.

It was enlightening to speak to Arpita – her observations of the legal market are made through a particularly clear lens. She has recently deliberately taken some time out to reflect and this act of slowing down, she says, has allowed her to see where the legal market is heading. After helping to establish the employment firm BDBF, Arpita has decided to chart a new career. For now, she has a renewed focus on charity work and has also taken a step towards front line work again, volunteering for the Rights of Women workplace sexual harassment helpline and sitting on the advisory committee. This, she told me, has been eye-opening as many of the women calling the helpline have strong cases of discrimination or even sexual harassment and physical abuse but still feel too vulnerable to take legal action because they don’t want to experience retaliation and be out of work. Another example of the long-lasting impact COVID-19 could have for women.

In light of International Women’s Day this week and the worrying statistics around how the pandemic has impacted equality, Arpita, who speaks so passionately about the issue, left me feeling hopeful. There is still a way to go but I am confident with individuals like Arpita at the forefront, the conversations will continue to go in the right direction.

Please consider supporting the Rights of Women cause here:


This week we enjoyed seeing the number of businesses celebrating women in recognition of International Women’s Day. One of our clients, Brook Graham, gave a lovely shout-out to some of the women who have helped shape their business (including our own Clare Rodway).
Since working with Brook Graham, after they became part of Pinsent Masons Vario last year, we have learnt so much from this team of expert diversity and inclusion consultants. From conversations with the team, I know much more about intersectionality for example and how gender and race e.g. can combine to create a particular type of discrimination, and how much businesses need to wake up to this. And Brook Graham’s ethos of taking a meaningful approach to culture change is so important – in this day and age it’s not enough to talk about D&I issues. What’s needed is meaningful change. So, consider this a shout-out back at you, Brook Graham – keep up the great work!


Favourite news story of the week easily went to the announcement that Terry Boot is replacing Peter Foot as the Finance Director of ShoeZone. This highlights the brilliant phenomenon of nominative determinism – the idea that you lean towards a job that fits your name. Indeed, when I was a teenager, I worked for a bookbinder and bookshop owner who went by Scrivener. In law, Corporate Counsel wrote about nominative determinism in 2009 and highlighted that in 2002, 0.002% of the population had the surname Counsell or Councell but three people of this surname were listed as barristers - over 1,000% more than might be expected based on statistical probability. And of course, there was Lord Judge, LordChief Justice, who served from 2008 – 2013. It’s clear – there’s more to your name than you might think.


Amelia Jones, Senior Account Manager at Kysen PR writes about IWD and the real issues businesses need to think about

A Mumsnet survey for IWD highlighted 1 in 5 working mothers during the pandemic have had to slash their hours in order to cope with the increased childcare, and most frustratingly of all “more than a third said their careers had been affected in a way that was not true for their partner”. 

Do businesses need to be alive to these issues? I think so.

Women taking on more caregiving responsibilities than their partner, despite working full-time, sadly isn’t a shocking statistic, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem due to school closures. We can’t change individual family dynamics, but what businesses can do is create more support and opportunity for women, taking into account what their personal circumstances might be.  

Despite the lack of good quality investment in childcare by the government, companies can do more to support families with their childcaring responsibilities. The ROI highlighted by Arpita could do much to help women flourish in their careers – giving them the space, time and opportunity to do so. The alternative is that we continue to lose talented and skilled women in our workplaces. 

Steps should be taken to improve equality for women at work, taking into account the responsibilities and pressure in today's society. Although it’s frustrating - we can’t change cultural expectations and socially constructed roles overnight - companies could take more of a tough approach in challenging why women’s careers are negatively impacted by the pandemic. As in the end, our industries will lose out the most.  

Friday, 5 March 2021

Tania Hemming

Tania Hemming thinks the word ‘innovation’ is overused. Morton Fraser’s Marketing & BD Director believes expectations and clarity around when the word innovation should be used needs to be challenged more often. The word 'innovate' is to make change, do something in a new way, to introduce as or if new - not all innovation needs to be monumental or life changing. And are we talking innovation or differentiation?

We’ve all been there, when you are asked to promote something as "ground-breaking" yet it is essentially a "seen before” initiative. Whilst these developments by a firm may be important to promote in some form or other, dressing them up as innovations runs a very real risk of undermining credibility in what the firm says and how it is perceived by its clients.

Tania believes the answer is in being far more precise about what we mean by the term innovation, rather than using it glibly as a buzzword: are we talking radical change? True market disruption? Or just incremental progression of a market idea? The lines may be blurred and that's ok, but let's be clear and communicate that by using the right language and label.

I met Tania at The Lawyer’s Marketing Leadership Summit last November, when she took part in a roundtable discussion we hosted entitled “When every law firm is an innovator, how do you differentiate your innovations?” Her contribution was insightful, particularly around the use and misuse of the term innovation, but sharing the floor with a dozen other top law firm marketers meant it could only be short. So I invited her to a one-to-one over Zoom to hear more.

“Our understanding and expectation of what a new idea or initiative can do needs to be crystal clear”, she told me. “When we first think of innovation we probably think of radical change but it doesn’t need to be seismic change to be of value. Incremental changes can be just as important in moving everybody and the market itself forward. But you need to present developments as they truly are, because exaggeration undermines credibility. We need to challenge our perception of what we are seeing as being innovative, we need to be clear about the level of change you are talking about and can we truly say they are disrupting the market? Is the change architectural, or is it radical? Is this something entirely new? Or a development of an existing idea or taking a concept from one market into another?"

Tania also pointed me towards a survey conducted by Altman Weil last year (Spring 2020) called “Law in Transition”, which revealed shockingly that 70% of law firm partners see themselves as the main obstacle to change … and 60% of those are unaware of what they need to do differently.

Tania is keen to ensure that innovation is not seen as a one-off initiative but should be a strategy within the firm and an evolutionary process. She also said, "The question is how to embed that into a professional culture that is often seen as conservative. With law as a cornerstone of society how brave do you want to be, what risks are you prepared to take, and are you prepared to fail". She continued, "These factors aren't something that comes naturally for law firms. I am fortunate that my career in professional services has been with law firms that look to push the boundaries and 'put their head above the parapet', what is radical change for one person is often incremental for others. If we are going to speak "innovation" to our clients, we have to understand what their perspective is and what the value is to them."

The importance of “Client-centricity” is a topic that comes up regularly in this blog as I interview leading legal marketeers on a wide range of topics. Lawyers need to communicate in their clients’ language and they need to understand the value they are adding in the context of clients’ own business worlds, and as they see it. Law firms need to distinguish between radical and incremental change from their clients’ perspective. Let’s take a good hard look at the word innovation in our press releases and marketing speak and challenge ourselves to be realistic about what the initiative can really do. Let’s focus on describing it accurately, promoting the benefits and value-add that will give clients true advantage, but let’s not bury their true value under meaningless buzzwords.


Our good friend Catherine Baksi, award-winning legal journalist and all-round dudette (remember her rocking up on Sky News sporting a leather bomber jacket and in her cut-glass British accent quoting a Clash lyric to explain the Supreme Court's prorogation judgment?) told us this week about a campaign her father @ArunBaksi is leading.  He is working tirelessly, she says, to point out the inherent unfairness in how social care is means-tested, but health care isn’t. It's a no brainer when someone brings it to your attention so right away we signed his petition to bring about change.  You can read about the campaign here and sign the petition. Please do also share on social media and help us put the word out far and wide.


My home town of Reading was all a-buzz this week after the sudden appearance of a very cool piece of graffiti on the side of the old Reading prison wall.
  "Is it a Banksy?", tongues wagged on Facebook and in real life?  It looks like one". It certainly does, the image depicting a convict escaping down the outer prison wall on a rope made of bedsheets weighted down by a typewriter.  Is it supposed to be Oscar Wilde, famously interned in Reading Gaol for gross indecency in the 1870s?  (Reading is very proud of this history.)  The face looks more like Robert del Nadja to me, founding member of the band Massive Attack and Bristol graffiti artist, often rumoured to be Bansky himself. But maybe it's just the rock star sunglasses...

Sure enough a few days later Banksy claimed the artwork was his.  Just love this video s/heposted on Instagram showing how s/he did it, with wonderful art direction from the US's famed Bob Ross, presenter of The Joy of Painting.  Enjoy!